Wired – Nintendo’s New Key To Creativity: More Women

http://www.wired.com/2014/03/animal-crossing-director/?mbid=social_fb

Wired has a new article this weekend about Nintendo’s new strategy for creativity in their development process: adding more women to their development teams.

The article notes the success of Animal Crossing New Leaf, which has been  an all around success for Nintendo. It’s a great game for doing mundane tasks and filling the empty void in your life with fake furniture and appeasing talking animals. More remarkably:

Since its release in 2013, New Leaf has sold 7.38 million copies worldwide, and is credited by Nintendo with helping the handheld 3DS system reach 42.74 million units sold. It also boasts another striking statistic: Nearly half of the Animal Crossing: New Leaf game development team was female. And according to Eguchi and Kyogoku, the two are far from unrelated. Indeed, they believe that the diversity of their team was crucial to their game’s success.

However the bigger story is that they intend to further this success with applying the same belief to future games, which means we may see more female development staff on future Nintendo games.

I won’t go too much farther than that, as you should go read the article, but it is an important step in making Nintendo a more diverse company. If Nintendo, who has been slow to adapt to change in many parts, can begin to diversify, then perhaps we’ll begin to see it throughout the industry. And that, my friends, will be a great thing.

For More Reading:

Is Nintendo Being More Gender Inclusive?

Video Games to Celebrate Halloween With

As I said a few months ago with “Games that to Celebrate the 4th of July with”, if video games mirror aspects of society, then it’s only natural that they celebrate our customs and holidays.  With Halloween only a few days a way, here are some spooktacularly fun games to celebrate Halloween with:

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Now there’s plenty of games gamers may go to for their Halloween gaming, specifically horror and survival games like Resident Evil, Deadspace, or Silent Hill. While these types of games are all great choices to play on Halloween, I’ll be focusing on games that actually celebrate Halloween…I’m talking Pumpkins, costumes, and, of course, trick and or treating. Here we go.

Animal Crossing Series (Nintendo)

I mentioned the Animal Crossing series in my 4th of July piece, but it works for pretty much all holidays and occasions. With Animal Crossing’s internal calendar and clock it celebrates holidays in real time. For Halloween the game has a reoccurring character that only appears in your town on October 31st. Jack, the pumpkin wearing character, appears in your town each Halloween starting all sorts of Halloween festivities and havoc upon your town. Jack is kind of a jerk, asking you to do all sorts of strange things and, to be honest, he’s a little too obsessed with Halloween for his own good. One must ask: what does he do with the rest of the year? The other villagers will get into the spirit by dressing up like Jack, offering candy, and giving out Halloween specific items. So if you haven’t checked your town in a few months (Sorry Isabelle and Nook, Pokemon took your place in my 3ds) perhaps it’s time to check in with your town and enjoy some of the Halloween fun this Thursday.

Costume Quest (PSN/XBLA/Steam 2013)

Honestly, this one I have not played but may give it a shot this Halloween. I have heard great things and it’s from trusted developer Doublefine, makers of  the hilarious and great games Psychonauts and Brutal Legend. Anyways, what better game to play on Halloween than a game set on Halloween. The game places you in the role of one of two siblings as they seek out their sibling after they are kidnapped by a giant monster with a sweet tooth while trick-or-treating on Halloween. The game is a mix of adventure and RPG aspects, with the player being able to switch their attack styles by switching different costumes. For those of us too old to go trick-or-treating, why not go in the virtual world with this game. All in all, it’s  supposed to be a really fun game with a Halloween backdrop that’s fun for all ages. Sounds perfect, eh.

Team Fortress 2 (Valve)

This one is moreso for the people  who have already played Team Fortress 2, as you’re probably not going to enjoy it too much if you’re only going in for the Halloween fun because you will get massacred and cry . For the last couple of years, Team Fortress 2 has updated the game with Halloween specific skins and festivities each year. Many developers had little fun Halloween skins and other fun things each year (Ex: Minecraft, Uncharted 3, etc) but Valve really has been known to out do other developers when it comes to Halloween. So if you’re a Team Fortress fan, take some time and playing TF2 this Halloween.

Jersey Devil (PS1 1997)

For those craving something a little older than those titles already mentioned, why not give Jersey Devil a try. The game puts you in the role of the infamous Jersey devil as he makes his way through levels filled with skeletons, pumpkins, and other Halloween related goods. The game may not be as favorably remembered as other PS1 classics like Crash Bandicoot or Spyro the Dragon, but it was a decent platformer for the time. Plus, it’s the only game to feature the elusive Jersey Devil, whom isn’t nearly as popular as the yeti or the eskimo.  That said, if you can find this game in a bargain bin it’s worth a try.

Kingdom Hearts Series (Square-Enix)

Last but not least is the Kingdom Hearts series. This one if more a guilty addition, as I they’re some of my favorite games. Many of the games in the franchise feature worlds based on the Tim Burton classic “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, which is  the perfect setting for any Halloween Video Gaming. Granted, there’s a debate whether the film is more of a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie, and Kingdom Hearts 2 definitely deals with more of the Christmas side of the film, but regardless Halloweentown is certainly applicable and fun to play on Halloween. It’s also a great game with a great remake that was just released on the PS3, so it’s worth a play anytime of the year.

So there you have it, some games to spend you last night of October with. Let me know what game you plan on enjoying this Halloween?

Nintendo and Racial Under Representation

This is a picture of the character select screen from Super Smash Brother Brawl, a fighter featuring many of Nintendo’s main characters. You may notice it, but something is certainly lacking in this picture (No..It’s not MegaMan)

Nintendo has been in the video game industry for well over 30 years, and the number of franchises and characters they have created is unrivaled in the industry. However, Nintendo certainly has been slow to change on certain issues (Wi-Fi, DLC, Account Systems, hardware, etc). They’re by no means the most dynamic developer out there, despite revolutionizing the industry many times over. One issue that they seem to be trailing behind is that of racial representation in video games.

Let’s think for a moment: How many non-white Nintendo characters can you think of? How many characters of color? I can think of two: Doc Lewis from Punch-out, and maybe Ganondorf.

What gives Nintendo? Two characters out of hundreds, neither of whom are playable and one of which is a villain. There may be some characters in the Fzero universe, but who knows the characters outside Captain Falcon from Fzero? So we’re essentially left with zero, and there are certainly no protagonist who are non-white.

Another concerning issue comes from their lack of customization to include non-white players. For example, the recent Animal Crossing allows players to customize nearly every aspect of their character and city. One feature lacking is the ability to change or choose your characters skin tone. Gamers of colored have asked “Why can’t my character’s skin color match my own”?

It’s only recently that Nintendo has allowed players to choose between male and female, so why has an option for skin tone been missing from most games? Mii’s skin can be darkened or lightened, so why not in game? This isn’t isolated to Animal Crossing either, as games like Pokemon lack this ability as well.

Reasons Given for the lack of diversity:

“Most of Nintendo’s characters were created in the NES days, non-white characters would be more difficult to distinguish”

This excuse may have worked when Nintendo was first developing for arcades, but certainly the NES was powerful enough distinguish non-white characters. As I mentioned, Doc Lewis and several of the punch-out casts were characters of color, so it was certainly possible. Even McKids featured a non-white playable character. Is Nintendo really unable to do what McKids can? Regardless, Nintendo has had 20+ more years to make more characaters, and with expanding universes like the Zelda universe there’s no reason why Nintendo can’t create more diverse characters.

“Japan isn’t as diverse as we are”

I understand that Nintendo is a Japanese company, and racial diversity isn’t as big of a concern in Japan as is it here, but being one of the foremost worldwide gaming developers Nintendo has to consider a wider audience. Being a Japanese company hasn’t stop other developers from creating characters of color. Likewise, Nintendo’s mascot is an Italian plumber- I don’t think they’re letting region dictate their characters.

So there you have it. While I am singling out Nintendo, this issue goes far beyond the big N. Characters of color have traditionally been very underrepresented, and often misrepresented, in video games. Varying studies have been done on the representation of race in video games, and they hardly even come out too positive. As the video game industry progresses, it’s important that we demand diverse and interesting characters. Children who are non-white need positive heroes and protagonist just as much as their white peers.

Animal Crossing: Life Lessons

I’ve been playing a lot of animal crossing. I mean, more than is healthy to play. Something about being in debt to a raccoon just seems so much more fun than being in debt to a university. During one particular long play session reality and the game began to blend into one; no longer could I tell if it was my soulless eyed character or I who was selling butterflies to a poodle and writing berating letters to a cat for constantly asking me to do trivial chores. It was then that I took an unbridled look at the world of Animal crossing; I saw it for what it was, and how it compared to the dull world that I actually inhabited. Upon waking from my haze a day had passed and I found myself in a dog kennel requesting a haircut and a song. I quickly raced home to transcribe what I had learned from the experience, and so this is what I bring to you today: Life lessons from Animal Crossing.

animal_crossing_new_leaf_box_art_north_america

DEBT MAKES THE WORLD GO ROUND

The first thing you learn upon entering the animal crossing world is that nothing comes for free. Before you have time to ask the questions “Where am I?”, “Why did I come to this place with absolutely no money and motive?” and ‘WHERE IS MY SOUL!?” you’re immediately thrust into a contract with one Tom Nook. You better get used to this Raccoon, because he owns you. Everything you do in your town goes through the Nook family (So much for being Mayor). If the above box art wanted to be anymore accurate to the game, there would be a large translucent Tom Nook in the sky laughing manically while looking down upon the town that crumbles at his whim.  Tom Nook has what you need: somewhere to live and the tools required to live. He starts small of course, giving you a measly single room home with room for little more than a bed and a light, but he plays on your own greed, roping you into contracts for bigger and grander houses until you’re his slave. It’s then that your  play time is consumed by fishing and bug catching just to pay back your immense debt to the Nook family.

This sound silly, but that is animal crossing in a nutshell: a cutesy debt simulator fueled by the labor of fishing. If you had to learn one lesson from Animal Crossing it’s that life is about owing others. But hey, that’s not a bad lessons to learn, especially if you’re young. Animal Crossing in some ways teaches fiscal responsibility to children. While Bells are certainly easier to come by than dollars, at least Animal Crossing is teaching kids that they’ll have to work for their money. Is it instilling a strong work ethic? No, probably not, but at least it’s an ethic. It’s only if we start seeing the next generation of kids become really into pawning anything and everything that we should  be concerned.

WANT BIGGER AND BETTER

Of course Animal Crossing also plays on the heart of capitalism, acquiring more wealth and possessions, but it’s all so adorable and silly that you forget that you’re essentially doing what you’re doing in the real world (Most likely minus the fishing). Multiple stores, new items everyday, and a year wide system of changing aspects makes your town an ever changing world, so it’s inevitable that you’re house’s design will go through multiple make overs. Making your house bigger and better is the essential goal of Animal Crossing, and with the addition of wi-fi play you’re no longer doing it for yourself. You can visit and compete with players around the world to see who has the most elaborate and coolest towns.  The most recent title, New Leaf, even lets you live out the fantasy of being a looter in someone’s town. That said, it’s fun. Unlike in the real world, Animal Crossing has a lot more immediate gratification than the real world- You like that cactus with a happy face but don’t have the Bells to buy it? Go fish for 20 minutes. It takes all the mundane parts of accumulation speeds them up and makes them less boring.

You can also be somewhat charitable in the world of animal crossing by donating items to your local museum, but the Owl who runs it is an ingrate who sleeps all day.

Kindness is Key

Although you have ulterior motives in your town, the game very much rewards kindness. Whether your helping out your neighbor by finding him a peach or making your town’s satisfaction higher by composing a new town melody, a big theme in the game is to make others happy. It shows, as the world of Animal crossing is a harmonious world where all types of animals live together under one town. The alligator resident isn’t ripping into the cat resident and there are no major fights over property: it’s a nice world. These acts of kindness make for a good lesson: be nice and play nice, and maybe you’ll be rewarded. Sure, you can also be a terrible villager and axe all of the trees and let your town go to ruin, but that would make for a pretty dull gameplay experience.

However, we don’t know much about what goes on beyond the walls of your town. Perhaps constant war? Famine and disease? Maybe your town is a controlled society in a larger world devastated by war? For more conspiracies about the Animal Crossing world, please read my book “Animal Crossing: The Lies of Tom Nook”.

Other quick lessons:

  • The land provides, and what the land provides will make bank.
  • Animals are sometimes really petty.
  • Not Saving is like committing an unspeakable crime.
  • New fossils appear in the ground every day.
  • Animals are living breathing things that should be treated as such. Not bugs or fish though; capture them and put them in cages.
  • Fishing is the most valuable skill ever.

So there you have it, some life lessons from the world of Animal Crossing. Take them as you like, whether its to your normal life or to your life in your Animal Crossing town. Perhaps one day, when games and virtual reality become one,  we’ll be able to owe Tom Nook huge amounts of money for real. Wouldn’t that be paradise….